Editorial: Against mass unemployment, mass struggle

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In the autumn of 1992, the class struggle reawaken with mass workers' demonstrations in Italy[1]. In the autumn of 1993, the workers' demonstrations in Germany have confirmed the recovery in the class struggle against the attacks raining down on the proletariat in the most industrialised countries.

In the Ruhr, in the industrialised heart of Germany, 80,000 workers have taken to the streets and blocked the main roads, to protest against the planned redundancies in the mines. On the 21st and 22nd September, without waiting for union instructions (which is significant in a country with a reputation for social "discipline"), miners in the Dortmund region downed tools, and demonstrated along with their families, the unemployed, and workers from other branches of industry who were called to show solidarity.

Whatever the result of these demonstrations, which are still going on as we go to press[2], one aspect of this movement gives a good example of how the working class can engage in struggle: the answer to massive attacks on working conditions is a massive and united counter-attack.

The recovery of the class struggle

Today more than ever, the working class is the only force capable of intervening against economic disaster. It is the only social class able to break down the capitalist order's national and sectional barriers. The division of the proletariat, reinforced by today's general social rot, maintains these barriers, and leaves the way open to the "social" measures being applied the world over. The interest of the working class, subjected everywhere to the same exploitation, the same attacks by the capitalist state, whether government, bosses, parties or unions, lies in the greatest possible unity of the greatest number, in both action and thought, to discover the methods of organisation and the direction for the combat against capitalism.

Last year, the workers in Germany were led by the nose for months, in a series of sterile trade union manoeuvres. The fact that today the workers are reacting by themselves is a sign of the international proletariat's reawakening combativity. This is the most significant event for the moment, but it is not an isolated one. There have been other demonstrations in Germany, including 70,000 workers against the redundancy plans at Mercedes-Benz and tens of thousands of workers in Duisburg against the 10,000 lay-offs announced in the engineering industry. The number of strikes is increasing in several countries: they are still channelled by the unions and their allies, but they show that this is not a time of passivity. Internationally, we can expect to see a slow and lengthy development of workers' demonstrations, of confrontations between bourgeoisie and proletariat.

In today's conditions, the international recovery of the class struggle will not be easy. There are many factors which tend to hold back the proletariat's consciousness and combativity:

- Social decomposition, corrupting social relationships and undermining the reflex of solidarity, encouraging the growth of despair and "every man for himself', generates a feeling that it is impossible to form a collectivity, to defend common class interests against capitalism.

- The avalanche of mass unemployment, which is running at a rate of 10,000 lay-offs a day in Western Europe alone, and which will go on growing, has at first a paralyzing effect on the workers.

- The systematic and repeated manoeuvres of the trades unions, whether official or "rank-and-file", which imprison the workers in sectionalism and division, have made it possible to control and contain the workers' discontent.

- The bourgeoisie's propaganda, whether based on the classic themes of the left fractions which claim to defend the "workers' interests" , or on the constant ideological campaigns since the fall of the Berlin Wall, on the "death of communism" and the "end of the class struggle", maintain a real confusion within the working class about the possibility of struggle. They reinforce the workers' doubts about the possibility of freeing themselves by the destruction of capitalism.

The proletariat will have to confront these problems in the struggle itself. More and more, capitalism will reveal the general and irreversible bankruptcy of its own system. It is true that the brutal acceleration of the crisis, and its catastrophic effects on the working class, tends at first to have a "knock-out effect". But it is also a favourable terrain for the proletariat to mobilize in defence of its class interests. This, coupled with the active intervention of revolutionaries in the class struggle, to defend the communist perspective, will help the class to find the means to organize and to carry this confrontation in the direction of its own interests, and those of humanity as a whole.

The end of "miracles"

It is a long time since anyone dared talk about an "economic miracle" in the "Third World". It is succumbing to universal poverty. The African continent has been almost entirely left to its fate. In most parts of Asia, a human life is worth less than an animal's. Famines spread year on year, affecting tens of millions of human beings. In Latin America, diseases that were thought to have been eradicated have returned, in epidemic proportions.

In the ex-Eastern bloc countries, the prosperity promised to follow the bloc's collapse has been remarkable for its absence. Stalinism on its death-bed was given a "shot in the arm" of liberal capitalism, but this has only added to the economic bankruptcy of this extreme form of state capitalism, which has hidden for sixty years behind the lie of "socialism" or "communism". Here too, poverty is growing fast, and living conditions are more and more catastrophic for the vast majority of the population.

In the "developed" countries too, the "economic miracles" have had their day. The tidal wave of unemployment and the attacks on every level of workers' living conditions have brought the economic crisis once again to the fore. The propaganda on the "triumph of capitalism" and the "bankruptcy of communism" hammers home the message that "nothing is better than capitalism". The economic crisis shows that under capitalism, on the contrary, the worst is still to come.

Massive attacks against the working class

The crisis lays bare the contradictions at the heart of a capitalism which is not only unable to ensure society's survival, but is destroying its productive forces, the proletariat foremost among them.

The capitalist ruling class bears the responsibility for the barbaric poverty inflicted on billions of human beings, but at least in the more developed countries they could maintain the illusion that the system functioned "normally". In the "democratic" states of the "First World", the ruling classes have tried to give the impression that the system offers a job and decent living and working conditions to every citizen. And although the growth in recent years of a so-called" new" poverty was beginning seriously to tarnish the tableau, its propaganda could still present the phenomenon as the inevitable price of "modernization".

Now that the crisis is more intense than ever, the "democratic" states are forced to drop their mask. Far from offering any perspective, however far off, of peace and prosperity, capitalism is lowering the living conditions of the working class and brewing war[3]. If the workers of the great West European, North American, and Japanese industrial concentrations still have any illusions about the "privileges" that they benefit from, they are in for a nasty shock.

The lie of economic “restructuring”, which was used to justify the previous waves of redundancies in the “traditional” industries and services, is beginning to wear thin. Today, there are plans for job reductions and lay-offs by the hundreds of thousands in industries which have already been “modernised” (automobile and aerospace), in high-tech industries (computing and electronics), or in the “profitable” service industries (banks and insurance), and in a civil service already “slimmed” during the 1980s (postal services, health and education).

Germany

Daimler/Benz

43,900

 

BASF/Hoechhst/Bayer

25,000

 

Ruhrkohle

12,000

 

Veba

10,000

France

Bull

6,500

 

Thomson-CSF

4,174

 

Peugeot

4,023

 

Air France

4,000

 

Aerospatiable

2,250

 

Snecma

775

Great Britain

British Gas

20,000

 

Inland Revenue

5,000

 

Rolls Royce

3,100

 

Prudential

2,000

 

T&N

1,500

Spain

SEAT

4,000

Europe

GM/Opel/Vauxhaul

7,830

 

Du Pont

3,000

 

Some of the lay-offs announced in Europe during three weeks in September 1993. In total, more than 150,000 (Source: Financial Times)

Not one sector has escaped from the "demands" of the world economic crisis. Every capitalist unit has no choice but to cut costs, from the smallest to the largest, right up to the state whose responsibility is to defend the competitivity of the national capital. Even the richest states have been dragged into the crisis, and are witnessing a dizzy rise in unemployment. Not one island of economic health survives throughout the capitalist world. The "German model" is a model no longer, and everywhere social "plans", "pacts", and "shock therapy" are the order of the day. And the "shock" is first and foremost for the workers.

On average, almost one worker in every five is already unemployed in the developed countries. And one unemployed worker in five has been out of ajob for more than a year, with less and less chance of finding work again. Total exclusion from any normal means of subsistence is becoming a mass phenomenon: the "new poor" in the great cities are counted in their millions, the homeless in their tens of thousands.

The mass unemployment developing today is not a reservoir of manpower for a future economic recovery. There will be no recovery which would allow capitalism in the "developed" countries to reintegrate the tens of millions of unemployed into the productive process. The unemployed masses of today are no longer the capitalist "reserve army" that Marx described in the 19th century. They will swell the mass of those who are already completely excluded from normal living conditions in the "Third World" and the ex-Eastern bloc. They are the concrete expression of the tendency to absolute pauperisation created by the definitive bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production.

For those still at work, wage increases are either ridiculously low and eaten away by inflation, or blocked completely. Worse still, cash wage reductions are becoming more and more frequent. Added to the direct attacks on wages, are all the increases in both direct and indirect taxation, and the costs of housing, transport, health and education. Moreover, an increasing proportion of family income goes to the upkeep of children or relatives who are out of work. Benefits of all kinds - pensions, invalidity benefits, the dole - are either being reduced or simply abolished.

The working class must combat all this with vigour. The sacrifices that every state is asking of the workers today in the name of "national solidarity" will only be followed by more sacrifices tomorrow. Under capitalism, there will be no end to the crisis.

The crisis is irreversible

The class struggle is vital

Even those whose job it is to defend the lie of capitalism's economic health are looking down in the mouth. Even when the growth statistics show some tiny positive signs, they no longer dare talk of "economic recovery". At best, they speak of a "pause" in the recession, taking care to point out that "if there is a recovery, it is likely to be very slow and very weak"[4]. This cautious language shows that the ruling class is more at a loss today when faced with the crisis than it has been for twenty-five years.

Nobody dares any longer to talk about "the end of the tunnel". Those who don't see the irreversible nature of the crisis and believe in the immortality of the capitalist mode of production can only repeat like a litany: "there will necessarily be an economic recovery, because there has always been a recovery after the crisis". This sounds like the old fanner's saying "fine weather comes after the rain", and gives a good idea of just how far the capitalist class is incapable of mastering the laws of its own economy.

The most recent example is the disintegration of the European Monetary System throughout 1993, culminating in its collapse this summer[5]. The failure of the Western European states to adopt a common currency has put an abrupt halt to the construction of "European union", which its advocates argued would demonstrate capitalism's ability to cooperate economically, politically, and socially. Behind the summer's turbulence on the money markets, lie the unbreakable laws of capitalist exploitation and competition:

- it is impossible for capitalism to form a harmonious and
prosperous whole, at any level;

- the class which profits from the exploitation of labour power
is bound to be divided by competition.

While within each nation, the bourgeoisie is honing its weapons against the working class, internationally its quarrels and conflicts are proliferating. "Understanding amongst the peoples" which was supposed to have been modelled on the understanding between the great capitalist powers, is giving way to a merciless economic war, where "every man for himself' is the fundamental tendency. The world market has been saturated for years. It has become too narrow to allow the normal functioning of capitalist accumulation, and the expansion of production and consumption necessary for the realisation of profit - which is the motor that drives the whole system.

When a company goes bankrupt, its owners can simply put the key under the mat, sell up, and move on to more lucrative fields. But the capitalist class as a whole cannot declare itself bankrupt and liquidate the capitalist mode of production. This would be to declare its own disappearance, something which no exploiting class is capable of doing. The ruling class cannot just leave the stage on tiptoe when its time is up. It will defend its privileges tooth and nail, and to the hilt.

It is up to the working class to destroy capitalism. Its place within capitalist relations of production makes it the one class capable of putting a spanner in the works of the infernal capitalist machine. The working class has no economic power within society, and so has no particular interest to defend within it. Collectively, it has only its labour power to sell. The working class is the only force which bears within itself a perspective for new social relationships rid of the division into classes, scarcity, poverty, wars and frontiers.

This perspective is the international communist revolution, and it must begin with a mass response to the massive attacks of capitalism. This will be the first step in a historic combat against the systematic destruction of the productive forces, which is going on today all over the planet, and which has just speeded up abruptly in the developed countries.

OF, 23rd September 1993



[1] See International Review no 72, ‘A Turning Point’, ‘A Reawakening of Working Class Combativity’, from the 1st and 2nd Quarters of 1993.

[2] The immediate gains for the workers are likely to be meager, since the unions have quickly taken things in hand, profiting from the workers indecision as to how to continue their first initiative.

[3] See ‘Behind the Peace agreement, the imperialist war goes on’ in this issue.

[4] Liberation, 18th September 1993

[5] See the article on the economy in this issue.